Shooting sparks new protests by native groups in Panamá

Trouble is breaking out in Panamá again with the potential of more blockades on major highways.

The Panamá News reported Thursday night that four native protesters were hit with birdshot while they were in front of the legislature. Talks between native representatives and the government has been suspended, and there are roadblocks on the Pan-American Highway, said the newspaper.

Blockades were reported in western Panamá at Vigui, San Felix and Hornocitos, said the Panamá News. That was the area where the Ngöbe and Buglé peoples set up roadblocks and clashed with police.

Some Costa Rican travelers and expats were caught in the blockades early last month, and some could not move for several days.

The protests in Panamá stemmed from legislation that would allow hydro projects in the watersheds of the reservation. The government there had agreed to review the legislation.

The native leadership says they were not consulted and that a prior agreement forbids such use.

The native groups and the Panamá central government appeared to have reached an accord, but Ricardo Martinelli, the country’s president, has been promoting a referendum to see if the public wants to put hydro projects on native land.

Eric Jackson, The Panamá News editor, said that he thought there might be protests in Bocas del Toro, too. He said there were other native groups joining in. Bocas is just south of Sixaola, Costa Rica, on the Caribbean coast.

When the protests broke out in the first week of February, Costa Rica closed its border with Panamá to anyone except citizens of that country and permanent residents.

The native protesters who were shot were not injured seriously. It appeared that the birdshot was fired from a distance, said Jackson.

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